Sunday, December 19, 2010

christmas is coming...

say what you want about the song from... the boat movie... Celine Dion got her christmas music right.

Christmas is the time when homesickness cuts deepest, not just for me, but for a lot of expats -- the only way to get across how big a deal Christmas is to North Americans (can't speak for the rest) is to ask your Korean friends to imagine Seollal, Chuseok, and Childrens' Day, all on one day.

Christmas in Korea is different - way different - than back home.  I talk about that here (from last year, responding to Brian in JND's response to Korea's "Christmas of Dumb Hats")

Most of my opinions haven't changed much since last year...
[Some say] we have to respect the ways other cultures observe holidays, and if Korea wants to create a commercial monstrosity with stupid hats, that's their prerogative, and the other side [says], "it's all well and good to be a cultural relativist, but it's still jarring and maybe sad to see Christmas observed in a way that is so distant from the warm family holiday we remember from our childhood" (or even from the Christmas we see in movies like A Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, and Love Actually... which is huge in Korea, maybe partly because it reinforces that Christmas is a couple holiday to Koreans.
What I'll say is this: I was never a big fan of commercial Christmas anywhere...but the fact that Christmas is not only mostly divorced from the old religious roots (didn't see a single nativity scene in two nights of walking around, haven't heard more than a few sacred carols on the Christmas music playlists in Korean shops), but ALSO divorced from the Christmas we remember from back home -- as far and away the number one family holiday of the year -- is jarring, and it sharpens the twinge of homesickness, or the sting of culture shock, for most of the month of December, for many of us. I always miss my family more at Christmas, and my students and Korean friends don't get that unless I ask how they'd feel spending Chuseok away from home, in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun is..."

Now, given that the entire Christmas symbology is here, but it's used differently, maybe it's not accurate to ask my Korean friends to imagine Chuseok alone in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun are... maybe a more accurage analogy is to imaging having Chuseok alone in a place where shikke is used exclusively as a mixer for rum drinks, and songpyeon is made of popcorn balls, which people throw at the boy or girl they like, in a holiday courtship ritual.

In previous Christmases, I've come across really cynical or dismissive of Christmas in Korea... but the fact is, every year I try hard to have some kind of Christmassy experience.  I seek out friends, and festivals, and do sappy things, and hunt after the foods I eat for Christmas in Canada.  This year, it's been particularly poignant, because 1. Wifeoseyo only gets the weekend off - nothing extra - and 2. it's my first Christmas with wifeoseyo, so I DO have family in Korea... (but Christmas will still always be an afterthought to most of them).

but on Saturday we went down to Goseok Terminal (subway lines 3, 6 and 9, if I remember correctly), where there are scads of Christmas decoration shops, and bought some candles, and shiny things, and hanging things, and a cute little tree.  So the house looks like Christmas now.  At least a little.

And we also got some ingredients, and I made my first Gluhwein today, as I experiment with it this week, to try and offer up something good for some friends this weekend.

Initial result: I'm gonna score it a 5/10.  Hopefully I can get this going before friends come over.

I'll post more of the results from my gluhwein experiments over the course of the week.

Later, readers!



This Is Me Posting said...

Here you go, buddy:

Probably the best rendition of the song I've ever heard from an up and coming artist from Toronto.

Roboseyo said...

TIMP: THANK YOU! the little drummer boy was always one of the songs that annoyed me the most, because it's about a DRUMMER, but the drum section of the song is invariably really really boring.

I'm totally making this a post of its own. Is there anything you'd like me to plug when I do, TIMP?

This Is Me Posting said...

Thanks for the offer. Very kind of you, but no plugging necessary. Just keep up the great work and bring that Canadian spirit to your holidays, eh?

By the way, if you liked that song, Andrew (of Songs to Wear Pants To) participated in a Christmas YouTube collab with 32 other musicians from around the world. Here's the video:

I dig the tune a lot.

(Also, just in case you missed it, Pomplamoose did a space-y cover of Deck the Halls:

Mockingbird said...

I know you can't go everywhere and do everything, but it would make an interesting post, whether from you or another, if one were to compare and contrast the Korean-language and English-language Christmas services at Seoul Anglican Cathedral. (My presupposition: except for the difference in language itself you would find more similarities than differences.)

In any case, stressing how Christmas is implemented by merchants who supply goods for the Korean youth culture, while overlooking what it means to Korean Christians, seems one-sided.

Anonymous said...

Look, holidays are bound to change once they get transplanted to another continent. It happened with us, and it’s happening here. There probably wasn’t any such thing as a “celebration of the birth of Christ” until the Holy Church moved into Northern Europe and adapted a lot of local customs about solstice (something that likely went unnoticed in the more equatorial parts of the world like the Holy Lands) and found a way to connect them to Jesus.

Cutting down trees and decorating them? A fat guy who flies thought the air and delivers toys through chimneys in a place where heating comes up through the floor? Even Koreans who consider themselves serious Christians don’t have any hat to hang that on, and the majority of people I’ve met just see Christianity as modern and Buddhism as old-fashioned. The Presbyterian Church over here does not ordain women, though they have in America for three decades or so now …

All I’m saying is that some things look the same here but, obviously, they are not – hoping they might be because it would make you happy, maybe just a little less uncomfortable, is a little bit, um, unrealistic.

“maybe a more accurage analogy is to imaging having Chuseok alone in a place where shikke is used exclusively as a mixer for rum drinks, and songpyeon is made of popcorn balls, which people throw at the boy or girl they like, in a holiday courtship ritual.”

It’s always a bummer being alone, no matter what time of year it is. On the other hand, we in the West have not tried to franchise our culture so that people get it right – it’s open-source, Creative Commons Licensed, so as long as everyone knows where it came from, I’m afraid we can’t complain about what they do with it. They will do with it what they will.